Thursday, May 26, 2011

Where Has the Time Gone?

We have reached our finish line for this school year. For some reason, I don't feel the usual relief. This is the first year schooling the boys at home that I didn't constantly count the days to the end. I think that has a lot to say about our attitude now that we are homeschooling vs. cyberschooling. I'll have more to say about that in next week's post. I plan to do my typical yearly summary then. For now, I want to share a few things about our trip this week and some of our plans for summer.

On Monday, we made our long awaited trip to The Frost Entomological Museum. At the last minute, my husband was able to take some time off and come with us. That made it especially nice for me. Both boys enjoyed the visit, but JT was definitely in his element. He asked our graduate student tour guide about the kinds of things he should study in order to prepare for a degree in entomology. He found out that Ian received his Bachelor's degree in Biology, then continued his studies, specializing in entomology. JT did mention that he has been studying Latin roots in order to be ready for all those scientific names. First we spent some time in the actual museum looking at the displays of insects from around the world. Then, as a special treat, we were taken to another building to see live specimens. EM got to hold a millipede, JT held both a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach and an Australian Walking Stick. All in all, the trip was a great wrap up for our year.

As far as summer plans go, the boys and I had a talk on Tuesday about the things we would like to do. I had them help me make a list of day trips we could make. We also decided that we would spend morning hours outside as often as possible. After lunch, we will be sure to get in some reading time and only then move on to using computers or watching movies. JT has been looking through a new cookbook, planning to try some new recipes this summer. EM wants to keep working on a kit we bought to build an electric motor boat. JT will be continuing his computer programming projects and EM will be doing his eye therapy three times a week on the computer, as well as using his Earobics program weekly.

I think summer looks like it might have just as much learning going on as our school year. It seems like the longer we homeschool, the less we differentiate between 'school' and 'non-school' time. Learning is able to take place whenever we let it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Buggy Art

To prepare ourselves for our BIG field trip to The Frost Entomological Museum on Monday, we decided to do some insect art today. My husband and I were able to get away last weekend for our anniversary. No anniversary trip is complete without a trip to a book store! You Can Draw Insects, by Damien Toll, was a superb find.

I told each of the boys that they had to chose a bug to draw. I wanted them to draw the same picture four times, but color each one differently. JT wanted to use the book and draw a blowfly. EM wanted to be more independent and create his own bug.

We cut small squares of white paper out for each drawing. When the pictures were drawn and colored, we chose different colors of card stock background for each one. These were also cut into slightly larger squares. Finally, we glued each picture onto a colored piece of paper and then glued all four onto a large square of paper.

EM's butterflies.

JT's blowflies.

I think they have a nice Andy Warhol look. Don't you?

We also spent more time this week on writing projects. One area I tend to avoid is writing instruction. At their ages, I don't necessarily feel that it is essential for the boys to be writing huge essays all the time. However, I do try to have a more substantial writing assignment now and again. JT has been working for two weeks putting together a report on rabbits. After reading Watership Down recently, I asked him to do research about 'real' rabbits. He is so good at digesting information by the boat load, but getting him to put it down on paper is another thing entirely. I constantly find myself asking him to, "Please add more details!"

I also gave EM two writing assignments this week. Usually his writing instruction consists of workbooks on grammar and phonics and keeping an illustrated journal. I try to keep his writing a little more casual than JT's. I did ask EM to write a poem and also a short paragraph on the topic "What I Like About School". After initial resistance, he did a wonderful job with both of his assignments. Writing is not his favorite subject, but when he does write something, he loves to share it with everyone. If you come to our house, be prepared to hear a recitation.

We have only THREE official schooling days left before our summer break. Tomorrow is the last spelling test of the year. Both boys will finish their math books by Tuesday. JT will be reciting The Gettysburg Address and EM will be doing The Preamble to the Constitution for our family next week. The field trip to State College is Monday. Tuesday we will be cleaning out desks and having our annual discussion about what worked and what didn't, what we learned and where we are heading in the future. I know this year has been the best so far for me. I'm fairly certain the boys feel the same way. The adventure just keeps getting better and better as we go.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


The days of school are flying by! And speaking of time...we have spent a large part of our week focused on times past.

One of the projects I wanted to use to wrap up our study of history this year was the creation of an illustrated time line. This year we had two separate focuses, ancient history and early American history. For ancient history, we primarily used Susan Wise Bauer's book, The Story of the World, Volume 1: Ancient Times. This book takes you from early nomadic cultures up until the time of the end of the Roman Empire. That is a LOT of material to cover in one year. In the back of the book there is a time line of all the major events covered. We chose 20 from the list and put together our time line. This was a great review for our year in history. It was also a good art activity!

I really like the drawing of the runner going from Marathon to Athens. Look at the little puff of air coming out of his mouth. According to the legend, after running the 26 miles with news of the victory, Pheidippides collapsed and died. I certainly would!

We also spent some time this week studying local history. Our area was home to a British fort, built in the 1700s. It played a role during both the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. There is a small museum run by a local historical society that I had never visited, in spite of the fact that I have lived in this area my whole life. This week, I took the boys on a field trip to see it. The Hunter House Museum is a small but incredibly interesting place to visit. We were the only visitors that day. In fact, the librarian in the historical society's library, had to come turn on the lights for us. However, we soon had a personalized tour given by the director of the museum.

She shared many interesting stories and facts about the site. The only remaining portions of the original fort are the well and the powder magazine. One thing I learned was that after the fort had been dismantled, the land was given to the commander. For a short time, the powder magazine served as a local prison. Would you want to have to go down into that dark hole?

Later that evening, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who teaches history at the local middle school. I asked her if local history is ever taught in the schools. She told me that it is never covered. She also told me that they are working to remove ALL history from the elementary levels. We talked about how we live in such a history rich region and how much these kids are missing when they never learn about it. Our local leaders worry about kids growing up and leaving the area for better jobs. Maybe the kids see our region as nothing special. Maybe some knowledge of the wonderful depth of what we have here would increase the pride in our community. Maybe a little more time spent learning out in the real world, instead of behind a desk every day, could help bring history to life.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Boys' Pursuits

Now that the year is wrapping up, we are spending far more time outside and on the road. On Monday, we went on a hike with the local homeschoolers' group. At this point, we are still only fringe members. They have an online Meetup group that I participate in, but we haven't been especially active in the real-life events. The group planned this hike in the woods near the town where my mom grew up, so I decided it would be a great trip for us.

We met at the home of one of the parents. She lives near the trails, so she knew the area well. On the trail we came across several large puddles that were FULL of frog eggs. In the picture, you can see the frogspawn that the kids all got to hold. About this time, I was wishing I had thought to bring along something to clean off my kids' cruddy hands. Being boys, they didn't seem to think it all that important that they stay I tried to put my neat freak self aside for the rest of the hike.

After about 30 minutes on the trail, we came to an open area with a marshy pond. All of the kids were thrilled! They immediately began throwing the largest rocks they could find into the water. While all of this was going on, JT and EM were both having a great time getting to know the other kids in the group. I was also having a good time chatting with the other moms.

Then the boy in JT really starting coming out...he managed to crawl out to the end of a tree that had fallen from the middle of the pond...and got stuck there. After quite a bit of coaxing, a mix-up with an ant nest on the tree, and many complaints, he managed to make it back to shore. By the time we returned to civilization, both boys were filthy, happy and exhausted. They had bags full of rocks and moss they had found on the way and had a few new friends. We plan to get together with the group again in two weeks for a picnic at a playground.

The boys have been working on some independent projects this week. JT is working on his engineering activity badge for Cub Scouts. He's been busy researching bridges and drawing up a floor plan of our house. EM has renewed his interest in his retro Radio Shack Electronics kit. I picked it up for him on Ebay a couple years back. I knew someday he would love it...and I think we have come to that day. When he was still a toddler, he would take things apart and try to 'fix' them. Earlier this week, we brought the kit out and my husband helped EM with one of the projects. On Tuesday, I was helping JT put together a demonstration of how a circuit works for Cub Scouts. After watching what we were doing, EM disappeared for a bit. He came to find me and wanted to show me what he had been working on. Completely on his own, without using the manual, he had learned how to wire the set to light the lamp. He even included a switch on the circuit. He was very proud of what he had accomplished. I'm going to try to make sure sets like this one are out where he can easily explore them on his own from now on.

I think our last 13 days are going to be packed full of fun. We have plans to attend the homeschoolers' picnic, take a day trip to a local state park, travel to The Frost Entomological Museum and possibly take a trip to Clyde Peeling's ReptileLand. Between the field trips we will be working on projects, planting the vegetable garden and doing a little extra art. If school is this much fun, maybe we should keep going all summer!